New York

Eastern: Boots on the Ground

Meet Stewardship Coordinator Matt Levy.

Matt Levy planted his roots in conservation as a summer volunteer at Conservancy preserves in Westchester and Dutchess Counties. Matt’s experience led him to a degree in environmental studies. During school breaks, he returned to work as the seasonal stewardship assistant. After stints in Arizona and Maine, Matt returned to the Hudson Valley in 1999 to become the Eastern New York’s first full-time stewardship assistant.

You can help us protect preserves in this region when you make a secure, online gift to Eastern New York.

What sparked your interest in conservation?


Exploring local forests, fields and streams was my favorite thing to do growing up. Watching my much-loved woods give way to housing developments sparked an early awareness in me that nature needs protection. Living out west for a time, I witnessed first-hand the effects of overgrazing, mining and clear-cutting on entire ecosystems and landscapes. I set about learning all I could about biology, ecology, and wildlife so that I could enter the conservation field as an effective professional.

As the stewardship coordinator, what types of things are on your to-do list?


My focus is on preserve management. My tasks range from keeping our boundaries posted to identifying and protecting ecologically sensitive features. It is also my job to provide safe and simple means for the public to access and enjoy these special places.

Work on a given day might involve building a fence or bridge or installing a kiosk. I coordinate resources and personally engage in the construction and maintenance of many miles of trails, as well as other infrastructure needed to protect the land. I also facilitate appropriate access and educate the public about our conservation work.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?


Distance and time. Our chapter spans a big geographic area and contains nearly 40 individual preserves with over 100 miles of trails. Most of the year, I perform the stewardship activities almost single-handedly. Another challenge is to make sure visitors understand that these lands protect plants and wildlife. Public use of the preserves for hiking and other passive recreational activities is important, but it must not significantly compromise the preserves’ role as critical habitat for natural communities. When people bring their dogs, leave litter, build fire rings, ride mountain bikes, or collect rocks, plants or animals, they place a strain on the land and stress the flora and fauna that live there.

How do the preserves inform the Conservancy’s science work?


We initiate and manage research projects and employ habitat management techniques at many of our preserves to ensure that certain threatened or rare species remain viable. Additionally, universities, science institutions, and natural resource agencies conduct research throughout our preserve network. Our preserves serve as excellent baseline habitats to draw comparisons with unprotected lands, and measure change over time in locales that experience minimum human impact. The work we do locally also helps to inform our global conservation efforts.

Can you tell me about a favorite experience?


Hosting interns from the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program is a highlight of every summer. One of my best memories is an Otter Creek Preserve project. The task was to build and erect a new nesting platform for ospreys in an expansive tidal marsh.

After getting completely covered in mud by digging a large hole deep into the mucky soils of the salt marsh, we horizontally positioned a donated phone pole at the edge of the hole. Using long, heavy ropes, we attempted to raise the pole and the platform we had constructed at one end and have the whole contraption slide down into its hole. Our first two attempts were unsuccessful.

The interns were dispirited and feeling badly about their strength and ability to see the project through. As the pole slid into position on the third try, we all cheered. Just as we began to leave the marsh, a pair of osprey circled above and we watched in silence as one landed right on top of the new platform. Nesting pairs of osprey have occupied the platform ever since, with one or two fledglings hatched each year.

What are some of your favorite preserves in the Hudson Valley?


Personally, I lean towards some of our larger sites -- Butler and Meyer Preserves, Pawling Reserve and Thompson Pond, the Neversink and Sam’s Point. They have extensive, often challenging trails and diverse terrain, and their large acreage harbors some of the more interesting wildlife and natural communities native to the Hudson Valley.

Of course, there are smaller gems that are also fascinating such as Zipfeldburg Bog, Swyer Preserve, Christman Sanctuary, Lisha Kill Natural Area and Limestone Rise.

What do you enjoy most about your job?


The best part of my job is that I get to care for beautiful, inspiring natural areas near where I was born and raised. Experiencing the rhythm and cycles of the changing seasons is gratifying and educational. Satisfaction comes from knowing that my “on-the-ground” efforts quite often bring tangible, lasting results that benefit nature and people.

What do you hope the outcome of your work will be?


My hope is that my work as a land steward in New York contributes to the Conservancy’s 60-year tradition of protecting, restoring, and managing the natural heritage that belongs to all of us.


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